Big Island Hiking: Captain Cook Monument Trail

Captain Cook Monument Trail

The Captain Cook Monument Trail on The Big Island is an interesting combination of remoteness and tourist overload.  The trail leads to a   monument commemorating where Capt Cook and his crew encountered the Hawaiian people and eventually met his demise. Tucked into the far Northwest corner of Kealakekua Bay along the Kona coast it is a bay teeming with sea life, stunning colors and honored Hawaiian history and culture. Pods of spinner dolphins frolic in the bay, massive sacred cliffs soar vertically along the east rim. In the shadow of the monument is some of the best snorkeling I have ever experienced.  keakalala-bay

Kealakekua Bay

The prize at the end of the Captain Cook Monument Trail is a paradise  billed as the only underwater state park that has no paved road access.  That leaves three ways to reach the destination.

  1. Rent a kayak on the far side of the Bay and spend an hour kayaking across. From your kayak you are up close and personal with the spinner dolphins. You must have a state permit and you must be very careful with your kayak when you get to the fragile area of the monument and snorkeling site. kayaking-keakakala-bay

    The first time we visited The Big Island we went this route.
    If you think there is grumbling on a hike, try putting my companion in a
    cheap kayak for an hour…tour-boats-at-the-capt-cook



  2. 2. Book a sightseeing/snorkeling trip through a boat tour group.  These big tourist-laden catamarans explain the occasional overcrowding at this site.  As I mentioned before, we avoid these tours if at all possible.

    3.  Hike with your snorkel gear down the Captain Cook Trail. This trail is a 1300 foot descent to the bay.  It ends right on the beach where the monument resides.captain cook monument trail

Hidden Trailhead for The Captain Cook Monument Trail

The trailhead is pretty hidden. If it weren’t for the mass of cars trying to park along the very narrow shoulders of Nāpō’opo’o Road you could drive right past. This is how the website, describes the trailhead: “ 500 feet down Nāpō’opo’o Road and park near telephone pole #4, on the mauka (uphill) side of the road.”

A trail with a 1300’ drop should be expected to be kind of treacherous going down.  It was pretty hard packed and not too terribly steep going down.  You need good closed toe shoes (Keens were ok but no flip flops) because of the rocks and there is no shade so that  hard-pack gets very hot.  As a matter of fact everything and everyone gets very hot.  Therefore you need plenty of water, sunscreen and a hat.  Overall the trail was very doable….going down.  

Captain Cook Monument Trail

As you can see the views are pure Hawaii.  The snorkeling in the bay on this day was unparalleled.  It actually outshines most of the scuba diving we have done on the Big Island.



Spoiler Alert:

A hike featuring a 1300 ft descent means a return hike featuring a 1300 ft climb.
We had started our day about 10:00 AM so after the descent, two rounds of snorkeling and our picnic, we  started our return ascent at about 1:30.  No matter how we try to avoid looking like tourists, the dead giveaway is that we always seem to find ourselves at the hottest spot at the hottest hour of the day.

Every charming aspect of the hike down now took an ugly turn as we headed up.  The bright vista from before was now a blazing sun, the hard packed path seemed littered with loose and sharp rocks now, the snorkel gear we blithely carried down seemed to weigh a hundred pounds.  Our drinking water was hot enough to boil tea and our backs were sporting a brilliant “snorkeling sunburn”.

We reached our Jeep very hot and exhausted.  We had no idea how stressed our bodies were until we tried to walk or sit for the next two days. 


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